Seventh Heaven

To say that we have hiked every day for the past 6 days might make it sound like we are on some sort of long distance trek or backpacking excursion.  But our modus operandi for a day of hiking is that we get in the car in the morning, drive an hour or so, park at a trailhead, hike 6 or 7 miles to explore some canyon or mountain ridge and then have plenty of time left in the day for a relaxed dinner and evening at home.  I’m happy if we are able to do that once or twice a week.  I was in seventh heaven this week when we got to do it every single day.

Last January we spent several days in Sierra Vista, Arizona, as a winter getaway from the Albuquerque cold and enjoyed some hiking then. But this past year, as Lee continued researching the area, he pointed out that if we stayed closer to Benson, Arizona, we would be centrally located for an even wider range of hiking opportunities.  We found a cute short term rental casita in St. David, where we have been staying for the week.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather and with no other obligations to hold us back we have hiked every day, each day in a different area.

Day 1

The first day was a 6.7 mile out and back on the Cochise Trail in the Dragoon Mountains.

Day 2

The second day was a section of the Arizona Trail in the Patagonia Mountains.  We had hiked south on a section of this trail last year.  From Patagonia the north section starts off on forest road and then has an option for a side trail up Temporal Gulch.  Most of our 8 and a half miles on this hike was on the forest road, since it was further than we had expected to the Temporal Gulch trailhead.

Day 3

Several years ago we had spent a couple of days hiking at Chiricahua National Monument.  There aren’t a lot of trails there, but it is an awe inspiring place with unusual rock formations.  On our previous visit we hadn’t done the Natural Bridge Trail, a 5 mile out and back hike.  It didn’t go through the area with the rocks that I had remembered but it was a pleasurable hike, nevertheless.

Day 4

This was the hottest day of hiking and the longest, but, fortunately, not a lot of elevation gain.  We were hiking with a friend and that made the hours on the trail pass quickly.  We did 9.5 miles out and back in the Rincon Mountains.  We started on the Hope Camp Trail which intersects the Arizona Trail on a section called the Quilter Trail.  We went partway up that to keep on our Arizona Trail theme.  The views were good and many of the slopes sprouted large fields of Saguaro Cacti, always a pleasure to see.

Day 5

Although there was some steep uphill, I think this was my favorite hiking place.  We were on a section of the Arizona Trail that is almost at the southern terminus.  We drove to Montezuma Pass at Coronado National Monument and took the short hike from the parking lot to Coronado Peak before heading in the other direction to climb north into the Huachuca Mountains.  Lots of elevation in a short number of miles, but awesome views over the San Pedro River Valley and into Mexico.

Day 6

Today’s hike was up Brown Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains just to the west of Sierra Vista. We had hiked a trail close to this one last year that basically stayed on the lateral as it went between two canyons. There was less snow this year on the mountain so we figured we could go higher up into the canyon. It was pleasant forested hiking, but not many views.

Saying Goodbye

Tomorrow we leave our St. David casita, but, happily, it is to continue on to another part of Arizona where we will explore new hiking destinations.

Winning Big in Las Vegas

We were big-time winners on our weekend trip to Las Vegas. We hit the jackpot at the Taco Bell Cantina on the Strip where we participated in the fun-filled wedding ceremony for our granddaughter and her fiancee. The happy couple will have many good memories of their special day to share with children and grandchildren.

The happy couple.

Before and after the wedding there was lots of time to take advantage of all that Las Vegas has to offer. We gambled on the weather, looked at descriptions of hikes in the area and made a couple of bets on two National Conservation Areas: Red Rock Canyon on the west edge of the Las Vegas Valley and Sloan Canyon on the south edge.

We had been to Red Rock Canyon on other visits and looked forward to revisiting the scenic red rocks. We wanted to do one of the hikes that we hadn’t done before and I threw my money on the square for Turtlehead Peak. Two and a half miles up to the summit and then back down sounded doable in the time that we had. We needed to get back to town with enough time to get dressed and ready for the wedding.

Contemplating Turtlehead Peak.

After the first mile or so of hiking the odds of making our goal were not looking good. The trail started to get very steep and rough, wandering through the rocky side of the gulch with no markers in sight and multiple paths winding through the rocks. We weren’t sure we were on the right trail and we weren’t sure how much further it was to the top. At a couple of points we almost threw in our chips and turned around. But we finally hit the mark and saw red dots on the rocks, our sign that we were back on the right trail. We pushed through the next steep mile uphill and were rewarded with lunch and the awesome views at the summit. On the way down we were confident that we could stay on the right trail but once again found ourselves navigating the off-trail slippery slopes, this time with knees aching on the downhill instead of lungs panting on the uphill. It was a tough game but we won the bet and got back to town with time to spare.

After a tough rock scramble on the wrong side of the gulch we were finally on the right trail, looking back the way we had come.

Walking got easier once we found the right trail, but there was still a mile of steep uphill to round the peak and climb up the backside to the summit.

From the backside of the peak, nice view of Las Vegas. Still some climbing left.

Enjoying lunch break at Turtlehead Peak summit.

The day after the wedding we appointed Lee as the dealer. He dealt us a much better hand. The hike he turned up was three and a half miles up to the summit of Black Mountain and back down. That meant the total hiking miles were 7, instead of 5, like we did the day before. But measuring difficulty on that hike I would say that it won hands down for being a trail that was easy to follow and one where you knew you were going to make the summit. Turtlehead Peak summit is reached by going around the back side of the ridge and you lose sight of the goal for much of the hike. At Black Mountain there is a flag at the summit that is visible for most the hike, letting you see clearly how close you are getting.

Our goal is a flag 3 miles in the distance on the top of the peak.

Nice to see some Joshua Trees along the way.

Some tough climbing but at least we were on a decent trail.

Black Mountain Summit reached with our favorite hiking partners.

Visible goals provide the motivation that I need for pushing through the tough spots. I could never motivate myself to waste money on a card game because I lack the necessary imagination for seeing an invisible goal of piles of money waiting on the next draw. Reaching the top of a mountain after a hard hike is the type of reward I aim for. And Las Vegas delivered in spades.